Can we please go ahead and retire the line, ’that’s just the way I was raised’?
I hear it in debates with friends and acquaintances. I hear it from both hosts and callers of talk radio programs. I’ve even heard it from our supposed political, economic and religious leaders. Everywhere I turn, it seems people are still using some variation of this same, tired, old clich’.
You’ve all heard them before:
’I’m that way because my mother brought me up to be that way.’
’My daddy was that way, my daddy’s daddy was that way, and my daddy’s daddy’s daddy was that way.’
’I don’t know where you come from, but where I come from’ bla bla blah.
My answer to such is always, ’So what?’ So what if that’s the way you were raised? What does that have to do with being right or wrong, with something being logical or illogical? You might as well say, ’I don’t think for myself. My intellect amounts to the accident of where I landed when I was born.’
The only reason why anyone ever gets away with such an asinine statement is because it’s not polite to call into question the character of another’s parents.
But such a statement is a double edged sword. On the one hand, it assumes your parents’ infallibility (an obvious absurdity). On the other hand, it heaps blame upon them (an obvious insult). My guess is that most people who don this moral shield do so with the former in mind.
Still, my favorite variation of such clich’ (and the one that truly drives home my point) is one I like to call the ’Son of a Preacherman.’ You all know what I’m talking about. ’My daddy was a preacher, and that’s the way he brought us up to believe.’ Well, hey: So what? A friend of mine’s father was also a preacher, and he brought him up to believe interracial marriage was a sin. In fact, some of the worst bigots I’ve ever known were men whose sermons I sat through. Does it make it OK for their kids to be bigots too?
Seriously, if you’re a man whose father taught him to beat up on women, does that make it ok for you to beat up on women?
Or maybe your parents really are salt of the earth. That still doesn’t make the statement any more valid. If we are to be anything more than perpetual children, we must learn to question what is given us and reason for ourselves.
It’s easy to hide behind the way your parents brought you up when the other party either doesn’t want to imply anything about your parents or actually doesn’t know your parents. But guess what? I don’t have to know your parents to dismiss such a lazy clich’. The question is about what you believe and whether you can back it up. Either you have critical thinking skills or you don’t. If I wanted to know what your parents thought, I would ask them.
Sure, no one likes to think that they might be wrong. But that doesn’t mean we can just absolve ourselves of blame by deferring to our upbringing. ’That’s just the way I was raised’ merely reveals who told you what you believe, not if it’s right or wrong.
Let’s be honest. You normally hear this brought out when it’s obvious that the strength of one’s argument is in question. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve actually heard someone say, ’And maybe I’m wrong, but that’s just the way I was raised.’
Are you kidding me? If you are willing to consider that you might just be wrong, shouldn’t you find out? Shouldn’t you keep going and see how the discussion unfolds, rather than prove your willingness to accept being wrong in some bizarre loyalty (or pretense of loyalty) to your circumstance?
And even if you are right, that doesn’t make it OK to take the coward’s way out of an argument. You should still be able to back up your claim. Think about it. If you can’t explain why you’re right, then how do you know that you are right?
Telling someone ’that’s just the way I was raised’ is the equivalent of saying, ’I could very well be making an entirely different argument if I had been raised by someone else.’ Whether the use of this last resort is due to an inability to make a strong case or an inability to let go of something they know is wrong, the underlying intent is always the same. ’That’s just the way I was raised’ is merely an arrogant way of preventing any substantive discussion from moving forward.
So what to do about it? How do we put to rest this sad little song and dance? I’d love to throw a retirement party, but I’m not convinced that would be the end of it. I’m also willing to acknowledge that my own use of ’So what’ may be a bit harsh and even counterproductive to the goal of furthering dialogue.
The fact of the matter is that we may never get rid of this pesky platitude. With this in mind, we must remember that our fear is not of the tactic itself, but its success in stifling debate.
So maybe the next time you hear someone offer some variation of ’that’s just the way I was raised,’ you could politely counter with the simple (but powerful) response: ’continue.’
Lonnie Ray Atkinson is a concerned citizen who has written the book ’What You Are Reading I Am Screaming: A Panic In The Absence Of Question’ and maintains projectquestion.org.